Revived Communications Center Sets the Stage for Guyanese Films
Guyana is home to a diverse people of multiple cultures, untouched rainforests, and as of late, a burgeoning film industry. Years ago, the educational opportunities available to communications students wanting to pursue journalism and film left much to be desired, especially when the Centre for Communications Studies at the University of Guyana closed. However, in less than three years, the Centre has experienced a rebirth through a higher education partnership with Ohio University. Dr. Paloma Mohamed, Director of the Centre and Dr. Vibert Cambridge, Professor at Ohio University, collaborated to transform the faculty and curriculum, and increase the Centre’s involvement in the Guyanese community. The partnership is funded by USAID and managed by Higher Education for Development (HED).
From a faculty of one Ph.D. holder, Dr. Mohamed herself, UG now boasts three Guyanese faculty, newly graduated with Master’s degrees from Ohio University and a master’s graduate from the University of Delhi. The Centre’s renaissance has become a beacon to faculty in other countries because of its communications curriculum which balances theory and practicum, as well as the hands-on training workshops for student and non-student local journalists. “This partnership has been an inspiration to many students, faculty members, and cynics. It has been a demonstration of how much change can be brought about by precious little if there is commitment, if there is will, and if there is love,” Mohamed said.
With a more robust Centre in place, Mohamed seized the opportunity to produce quality films under the President's Film Endowment Project 2011 in Guyana. Breaking the surface of a placid industry in 2011, communications students and local Guyanese have written, directed, edited, and acted in eight short films – all produced by Mohamed and U.S. Trainer Brian Zahm from Ohio University, who also designed the film program. “Guyana’s communications capacity has grown exponentially; it’s not just TV,” said Cambridge.
The films represent the spectrum of Guyanese society including religion, mysticism, and cultural tradition, while placing hot-button issues such as race relations, parenting, healthcare and poverty at eye-level. The writer and director of “Hope,” Shaundel Phillips, captured audiences’ attention with the story of young love between a Hindu-Guyanese priest and Afro-Guyanese dancer. Phillips, a first-time filmmaker and Head of the Department of Language Arts and Drama at Berbice High School, lived and breathed the issue in the coastal city of Berbice, Guyana. In her 22 years of teaching, she learned of parents’ fears and prejudices and saw the community difficulties due to a clash of religions and cultures. She said she wanted to show “Children can be responsive and still hold on to their beliefs. They use their religions to actually bring peace.” Her film received additional funding from USAID in Guyana. Phillips said she is encouraged by the attention to the story and audience reaction. “I felt all my efforts were validated.”